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Bike racks:Bike rack blocking license plate?

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Got a trailer hitch or bike rack that blocks the license plate? Or a faded plate? Wonder what the law is?

Ask a Trooper is here to help.

bike racks

Have a traffic question? Email Lt. Rob Davis and the troopers at the Lakeview and Rockford posts at AskTpr@michigan.gov

Here's Lt. Davis: I've fielded a few recent questions regarding the visibility of license plates, so I asked Trooper Bill Huey of the Rockford to address the issue.

Trooper Huey is a recent transfer to Rockford and brings a tremendous amount of experience to West Michigan.

Trooper William Huey: A recent ruling from the Michigan Appeals Court stating a registration plate attached to a vehicle in Michigan must be clearly visible and unobstructed has generated concern from numerous commuters as to how to stay legal when a hitch or bicycle carrier is utilized on the rear of a vehicle.

The statute is covered in the vehicle code 257.225 sub section (1) and (2) and states a violation is a civil infraction under Michigan law. The section states...

(1) A registration plate issued for a vehicle shall be attached to the rear of the vehicle. A registration plate issued for a truck tractor or road tractor shall be attached to the front of the vehicle.

(2) A registration plate shall at all times be securely fastened in a horizontal position to the vehicle for which the plate is issued so as to prevent the plate from swinging. The plate shall be attached at a height of not less than 12 inches from the ground, measured from the bottom of the plate, in a place and position that is clearly visible. The plate shall be maintained free from foreign materials that obscure or partially obscure the registration information and in a clearly legible condition.

The section does not leave any exemptions for obstruction by a trailer hitch or bicycle rack. This does present some problems for certain hitches or add-on cargo carriers.

Not all carriers are going to be suitable for legal use in Michigan. There are fairly easy solutions to the problem of obstructing your license plate in this manner.

Choosing a product that offers multiple options is the easiest way to maintain an unobstructed plate. A quick google search of "bicycle carrier" or "cargo racks" will display many results that range from fairly inexpensive to the much more expensive high end models. Care should be taken to check the product descriptions and options thoroughly.

Many come equipped with a license plate relocation bracket.

If the carrier does not come with this option it will not be legal in Michigan unless fabricated further to mount a plate on it.

The license plate can be removed from the vehicle and attached to the carrier itself in a visible location as long as it remains at least 12 inches off the ground. Also be aware that if the unit will be used after dark it will need to be equipped with a light to illuminate the registration plate.

There are far less options available for a plate obstructed by a ball hitch. Brackets can be found to relocate a license plate in a higher position where it would be free of obstruction.

These brackets are less numerous and harder to find. They must often be ordered for a specific model vehicle and can become more expensive and difficult to find and install.

The easiest solution is to have the vehicle equipped with a receiver hitch that is easily removed by a pin attachment. The entire ball hitch can be removed and placed in the trunk or another secure location. Always be cognizant that any heavy object left unsecured in the back of a car or truck carries the potential to be a deadly projectile during crash.

As always, should you have any questions, please feel free to stop into your nearest Michigan State Police Post and a Trooper will be happy to answer any questions and take a look at your vehicle to make sure it is in compliance. Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself and drive safely!

Here are your questions:

Paul: I have two questions/comments for you.

Question number one is where cars are going one way in three lanes, and the right lane and left lane both pass a car in the middle lane, which car, right or left, has the right of way to turn into the middle lane if it so desires?

We live in Texas Township in Schoolcraft, and I have noticed two stop signs that cannot be fully seen until you are about 50 yards from them due to trees partly blocking them. This seems very unsafe. In fact there was a fatal accident recently at one of the corners, and I wonder if that may have contributed to the accident.

Lt. Rob Davis: Reference your first question, both drivers in your scenario could move into the middle lane if they desire. Three-lane roadways differ from two-lane roadways in that on a two-lane one way, vehicles (with some exceptions) must stay to the right unless passing. As to your second question, I would e-mail or actually write a letter to your county road commission and voice your concerns.

Steven: Let me start by saying I love dogs but what I came across the other day on the freeway made me wonder who's driving anyway. I was driving on east bound I-196 in downtown Grand Rapids when a vehicle abruptly pulled into my lane at a reduced rate of speed.(45mph) if that.

She didn't merge, she didn't signal, she just came on over. I was forced to slow down until traffic cleared in the far left lane. As I was passing the vehicle who had pulled out in front of me I happen to notice she had her pet dog in her arms. I think she thought it cute. Are there any laws prohibiting this kind of behavior?

Maybe the owner figured she bought the dog a license. Might as well put it to use.

Lt. Rob Davis: No specific law that would prohibit a dog in your lap, however, if it affects your driving (like in the instance you describe), then it would be considered careless driving and the operated could be ticket as such.

Zack: Do you have any advice as to how bicyclists can legally protect themselves from cars that pass when there really isn't enough room. ... Interestingly enough, the problem isn't the busy roads, but the more rural roads that don't have a solid white line separating the travel lane from the paved shoulder.

I read through MCL 257.660a (requiring bicycles to ride "as far to the right as practicable"). One exception in particular caught my interest: "...if the lane is too narrow to permit a vehicle to safely overtake and pass a bicycle."

In my experience, that would include *any* road with a 12' lane and no solid white line on the right.

Consider this: My bicycle is about 2' wide. I need about 1' of pavement to my right (so I have room to avoid debris, adjust to wind gusts, etc.). My minivan is 8' wide (including both side mirrors). That leaves just 3' of space for a vehicle to pass me without crossing into the oncoming lane.

I also find it interesting on these roads without marked, paved shoulders, cars *always* move into the other lane to pass me, if the lane is open. They only squeeze by me when there is opposing traffic.

This suggests that the drivers are fully aware that it isn't safe to pass so closely, but they value their time more than my safety.

My reading of MCL 257.660a suggests that I have the right to ride toward the middle of the lane in these situations to prevent unsafe passing; but, I suspect that irritating drivers won't really do much to improve my safety overall.

Lt. Rob Davis: The language you found is interesting. The questions would be then what is too narrow? I would guess that too narrow would mean any lane more narrow then the standard requirement for lane width on a secondary rural road. Either way without a clear definition of what too narrow is, you might risk getting a citation if you're in the middle of the lane.

I wish I had a better answer for you, but like many of the laws we deal with there are substantial gray areas. It might be worth your time to consult with someone at MDOT to see what those lane widths (where you're riding) are required to be.